The (Largely Ignored) Carol Bowne Story


In 2012, Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz claimed that she was raped. The university investigated, and found no evidence for the claim. In protest, Sulkowicz started an art project called “Carry that Weight,” in which she lugged her mattress around campus until her graduation last month. Even after dismissing the claim — and as questions about the veracity of the underlying allegation grew — the school endorsed the project as Sulkowicz’s senior thesis. Soon, images of her carrying her mattress went viral, and she became an international feminist icon. Many stories were written about her on sites like Salon, Jezebel, and Cosmopolitan. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand invited her to the State of the Union speech. Even fellow feminist icon and Girls star Lena Dunham tweeted her support:

On Friday, June 5th, news broke about Emma Sulkowicz’s newest art project, a sex tape:

Having graduated from Columbia University and completed her “Mattress Project,” a performative protest against the school’s decision not to expel her alleged rapist, Emma Sulkowicz has officially embarked on her post-graduate career as an artist with a provocative new piece.

Sulkowicz stars in an eight-minute video which shows her engaging in sexual activity that “is consensual but may resemble rape,” she writes in her artist’s statement.

Titled “Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol” (“This Is Not a Rape”), an on-the-nose reference to surrealist artist René Magritte’s iconic painting of a pipe (“Ceci n’est pas une pipe”), the film shows Sulkowicz being slapped and choked by a blurry-faced man while the artist “whimpers and protests in pain,” according to Jezebel.

Emma Sulkowicz was all over the news, yet again.

Carol Bowne wasn’t.

That same day, news of Bowne’s brutal murder started coming out of New Jersey. She had been stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend, against whom she had filed a restraining order. It was also revealed that she applied to get a gun for self-protection, but New Jersey’s ridiculous gun laws got in the way, and she didn’t get her permit in time. She also installed a home surveillance system, which according to Channel 6 in Philadelphia, “captured the entire incident.”

Right after the story broke on Friday, I searched for coverage of Carol Bowne’s murder. Other than local New Jersey websites and a couple of conservative outlets like Bearing Arms and Breitbart News, there was hardly any. I found myself starting to get annoyed at both liberals and conservatives for ignoring this horrific story.

How could you be a feminist who believes Emma Sulkowicz on the basis of nothing more than her highly-disputed story, and not be outraged by the murder of a woman that was actually caught on video? Feminists will start entire Twitter campaigns against manspreading, stare rape, and the lack of women in comic books. But I couldn’t find a single one who tweeted about #CarolBowne.

On the flip side, many conservatives who normally rail against draconian gun control measures like New Jersey’s were also largely silent. While many spent Friday playing the hashtag game #MarcoRubioCrimeSpree, few seemed to care about the #CarolBowne story.

There are many issues raised by the story: Gun control, the early release of convicted felons, self-defense, why some stories go viral and not others, how feminists decide who to get behind, and on and on. Surely, many articles and thought pieces should be flowing from Carol’s murder, but for now it’s just a trickle.

Late Friday afternoon, Charles C.W. Cooke wrote a great piece about Bowne in National Review [editor’s note: listen to Charles and Kevin Williamson discuss the issue on Ricochet’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen podcast] which says, in part:

There can be few clearer illustrations of the folly of draconian firearms regulations than this. The killer was a convicted felon who had previously been found guilty of weapons offenses and aggravated assault, and who is now on the run from federal authorities. The victim was a “bubbly, well-liked,” law-abiding woman who did not want to run afoul of the government even when she sensed that her life was in danger. If “government” is just another word for the things we do together, then, frankly, we failed — and damnably. All Carol Bowne asked was that she be permitted to exercise her right to protect herself in her own home; instead, she ended up bleeding to death in her driveway, as the paper-pushers and know-it-alls decided whether they would deign to indulge her request, and her killer sped away, without fear of retaliation or injury.

On Sunday, Jenn Jacques, a writer for Bearing Arms came out with another important article, also lamenting the fact that this story has garnered little coverage:

While her death is a tragedy, the lack of national attention her story has gotten only deepens the hurt of her senseless murder. We should all stand up and refuse to allow another case like hers to take place. We are the watchmen. Our duty is not only to protect ourselves and those around us, but to stand tall and speak loudly for all victims like Carol [Bowne], in an effort to ensure every individual looking to legally defend themselves with a firearm is not ignored, but granted the opportunity of a fighting chance.

There is much to be outraged by in the Carol Bowne story, not the least of which is how the gun laws of a state — which many feel are for the public good — can actually cause the public harm. In my job for NRA News, I get to talk to many people in the gun rights movement, and many who had huge problems with New Jersey’s gun control laws even before this incident.

In an email, Heather Marchese, founder of One Million Moms Against Gun Control, told me:

The murder of Carol Bowne highlights the flaws in every argument for gun control. Ms. Bowne followed the law, she had a restraining order, she relied on the police to protect her while she waited weeks to get permission to purchase a pistol… and she was stabbed to death while waiting for permission to legally defend herself.

This is a story the media is ignoring because it shows the abject failure of a system they trumpet- that the police cannot be there to protect us, while the politicians remove our ability to protect ourselves. Gun control advocates want a “discussion” regarding gun control laws. We agree — and the discussion should start with Ms. Bowne.

I also talked to Scott Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, one of the people most involved in trying to change the gun laws of New Jersey. He emailed me to say:

Carol Bowne did not have to die. New Jersey gun control prevented her from having a fighting chance. New Jersey’s anti-gun legislators have Carol Bowne’s blood on their hands. New Jersey’s backwards and antiquated gun laws restrict only law-abiding citizens, making them prey to the predators who ignore them.

State law mandates that permit applications must be approved or denied within 30 days. Police departments routinely ignore this requirement, and some towns take over a year to issue permits. Last year ANJRPC launched its “Permitting StrikeForce” – an ambitious initiative to bring each and every one of New Jersey’s 565 municipalities into compliance with state permitting law.

In the digital age, even New Jersey’s 30-day requirement is absurdly and unacceptably long. Databases can be searched in seconds, and the simple NICS check that suffices for firearms purchases in the rest of the country should be more than sufficient for the state of New Jersey.

When the state interferes with the Constitutional right of peaceable citizens to defend themselves, people die.  The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the police have no duty to protect individual citizens. New Jersey adds insult to injury by making it all but impossible for its citizens to take responsibility for their own protection.

ANJRPC is calling for the immediate strict enforcement of current permitting deadlines, replacement of those deadlines with electronic instant checks, and elimination of all impediments to the Constitutional right of peaceable citizens to defend themselves with firearms both inside and outside the home.

At the end of the day, I’d love for a story like Carol Bowne’s to be seen as important as Emma Sulkowicz’s. Right now, it doesn’t feel that way.


Also on Friday June 5th, in Texas:

A woman was “cool as a cucumber” Friday evening when she opened fire at a man who tried to rob her at a gas station in northeast Harris County, sheriff’s deputies said.

The woman, in her mid-30s, pulled into an Exxon station about 6 p.m. along FM 2100 and Saddle Creek Farms Drive.

She was in the driver’s seat when a man suddenly got into the passenger side. He pulled out a knife and demanded her cash, Harris County sheriff’s deputies said.

The woman agreed and reached over to her purse. But instead of money, she pulled out a pistol.

“She shoots him one time in the left shoulder,” Deputy Thomas Gilliland said.

The man fled, running north along FM 2100. He collapsed about a quarter-mile away.

The man was flown by LifeFlight helicopter to the Texas Medical Center because of the blood loss. He was later listed in stable condition at Memorial Hermann Hospital, authorities said.

He is facing a charge of aggravated robbery.

The woman is licensed to carry a concealed weapon. Although the case will be referred to the Harris County grand jury, authorities said the shooting appears to be self-defense.

How different would the Carol Bowne story have been if she lived in Texas?

Published in Culture, Education, Guns
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  1. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer

    Between this and the Shaneen Allen case it’s really amazing the lengths to which New Jersey will go to deny women the right to defend themselves within its borders.  Then again, I live in Massachusetts, where it can take law abiding person a few months to get a handgun license.

    If Governor Christie — whom I like in many ways — decides to run, I really hope the others tear him apart on this issue. And while I can’t quite endorse demagoguery, I wouldn’t protest it if one of them mentioned the War on Women in this context.

    • #1
  2. user_977556 Member

    The University investigated, and found no evidence for the rape claim.”

    Since when did universities obtain police powers?  Rape is a criminal act.  It should be reported to and investigated by the police.  Did that happen in this case?

    • #2
  3. user_357321 Inactive

    The tragic and preventable murder of Carol Browne must be one of those local crime stories.

    • #3
  4. Ricochet Moderator

    It is almost ironic that even as the internet has undermined or largely destroyed the business model of the old MSM news establishment it has also exponentially amplified the scope and power of the MSM filter.  The echoes and ripples from the remaining big papers, news services and old broadcast news now have farther reach than ever.  What they choose to present is now jammed into our eyes and ears more pervasively than ever before. Leaving aside cultural and political change, twenty years ago mattress girl would likely never have made the local New York news much less become a national discussion simply because the flow of news was structurally different.

    The modern left is driven by narcissism and lock-step endorsement of the new cultural conformity in support of that narcissism so being herded along by the ideological meme of the day comes naturally to them.

    It is harder to for conservatives to do that.  I would like to see Carol Browne’s attacker dead.  I think NJ gun laws are patently stupid.  But I am reluctant to turn somebody’s personal tragedy into a bumper sticker.  Maybe it’s because I am not a lefty but my inclinations do not run that way.

    • #4
  5. Instugator Thatcher

    Theodoric of Freiberg:“

    Since when did universities obtain police powers? Rape is a criminal act. It should be reported to and investigated by the police. Did that happen in this case?

    You haven’t been paying attention – universities, using title IX, have taken it upon themselves to “investigate” “sexual assault” independently of the police. The result is  kangaroo courts with the standard for “conviction” being preponderance of the evidence and the result expulsion.

    The situation is so ridiculous that in one case the standards of the college were so low it should have found them both guilty of raping each other.

    • #5
  6. user_357321 Inactive

    Old Bathos:I am reluctant to turn somebody’s personal tragedy into a bumper sticker.

    NJ gun laws have observably killed someone.  It’s no meme or narrative or cultural agenda.

    In Texas she’d have been able to defend herself against a physically superior attacker with a pistol or a shotgun.  New Jersey’s laws denied her the the ability to defend herself with these effective tools.

    This is no bumper sticker.  And honestly, what’s with the hand-wringing?  Yes, it’s a personal tragedy; created by bad law.  But it is also a legal tragedy because the law failed her.  Clear-cut failure must be brought up, and it doesn’t get any clearer than this fact pattern.

    • #6
  7. Ricochet Moderator

    Jordan Wiegand:

    This is no bumper sticker. And honestly, what’s with the hand-wringing? Yes, it’s a personal tragedy; created by bad law. But it is also a legal tragedy because the law failed her. Clear-cut failure must be brought up, and it doesn’t get any clearer than this fact pattern.

    Don’t disagree the facts are significant or that this incident is not newsworthy.  My point is that while the left has no problem taking Procrustean liberties with facts to serve pre-existing narratives, that is not a natural approach for conservatives. Gun rights are a matter of principle and rational policy choices not a response to instances of victimhood.

    Again, I don’t argue that what happened to Carol Browne should be ignored or that it should not make us all angry.  I just don’t expect conservatives and libertarians to try to out-Oprah the left or effectively take up issues in that way. Are there more Carol Brownes than children killed by gunfire every year?  Per MSNBC-style math there are 6 or 7 or maybe a zillion kids a day shot by guns the lefties want the government to magically remove from society.

    I know that dead kids is a maddeningly stupid response to the Browne murder but  given the structure of media and the nature of the culture that media shapes, it wins.

    • #7
  8. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M

    I clicked on the Salon article you linked, just to see the picture of the girl lugging the mattress.  An eye roll doesn’t quite describe it; suffice to say, I’m happy to no longer be anywhere near the college campus.

    Minor point of annoyance:  The Slate article refers to her as “alleged rape survivor.”  That one has always struck me as odd.  Of course alleged is appropriate since she merely accused someone of rape, even though the media expresses no skepticism, which means using the word ‘alleged’ is sort of pointless.  But what about the word “survivor?”  I mean, you survive a shark attack or a tornado or a car accident.  But a rape?  Yes, certainly there are the sorts of horrible rapes that you might not even survive, but when rape is defined as anything ranging from a full-on assault to morning-after-regret, I think we’re throwing around some pretty weighty terms.

    • #8
  9. Ryan M Member
    Ryan M

    Old Bathos:It is harder to for conservatives to do that. I would like to see Carol Browne’s attacker dead. I think NJ gun laws are patently stupid. But I am reluctant to turn somebody’s personal tragedy into a bumper sticker. Maybe it’s because I am not a lefty but my inclinations do not run that way.

    It’s like you said.  We shouldn’t try to out-Oprah the left.  The fewer Oprahs there are, the better, and no I don’t want a right-wing version.  It may be perfectly legitimate to point out that the media selects stories in a hypocritically cynical agenda-driven manner, but I largely agree with you here that we shouldn’t be clamoring for more politicization and national coverage of these things.  Why should I hear about a murder in New Jersey?  Frankly, I don’t want to.  There was a murder friday morning about a block away from my wife’s office, and I heard about that.  Sure, it makes sense, that’s fairly close to home.  It likely involves gangs in my town, but in the very least its sheer proximity is newsworthy.  I don’t care what happens in New Jersey, and not every awful story needs to be spread far and wide.

    • #9
  10. billy Inactive

    Theodoric of Freiberg:“

    Since when did universities obtain police powers? Rape is a criminal act. It should be reported to and investigated by the police. Did that happen in this case?

    Yes. and the NYPD cleared him of rape charges too.

    • #10
  11. user_138562 Moderator

    This could be an opportunity for Chris Christie to loudly denounce New Jersey’s gun laws and demand reform.  I have very little faith that he will do this, though.  If Christie were as pro-2nd Amendment as he sometimes claims, we would have seen some action from him before this.

    • #11
  12. user_189393 Inactive

    The incident was brought to my attention by the Mad Dogs and Englishmen podcast.  The coverage on this story is pitiful, and the response from both left and right is appalling.

    • #12
  13. user_189393 Inactive

    Randy Weivoda:This could be an opportunity for Chris Christie to loudly denounce New Jersey’s gun laws and demand reform. I have very little faith that he will do this, though. If Christie were as pro-2nd Amendment as he sometimes claims, we would have seen some action from him before this.

    Crisis wasted.

    • #13
  14. user_423975 Coolidge

    Theodoric of Freiberg:“

    Since when did universities obtain police powers? Rape is a criminal act. It should be reported to and investigated by the police. Did that happen in this case?

    I agree with you.  In my opinion, Universities should never be handling cases like these.  However, even with their ridiculously low bar, they couldn’t find enough evidence to support the rape claim.  She eventually did go to the police, but didn’t follow through with it.

    • #14
  15. Ricochet Inactive

    Why is it so imperative that universities be seen as havens of rape by the Left?  I mean the woman from Jersey who was actually in danger and faced a tremendous threat to her leading to her ultimate death I hadn’t even heard of until now, but the “Mattress Chick” from Columbia I had heard of because of her profiles in “courage” from Slate, then various Conservative media outlets.  Yet, she was not raped and faces no systemic threat from anyone and apparently has to go out and make a video or what “rape” on campus looks like–at least that is the impression I got from the linked story.  I just don’t understand the desire to manufacture victim status when there are real people out there facing real threats to their life.

    • #15
  16. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya

    The insanity of the gun laws in my home state of New Jersey can be encapsulated by the following:

    The restrictions on buying a Daisy BB gun, like that coveted by the protagonist in “A Christmas Story,” are the same as for purchasing a hunting, military, or target rifle.

    • #16
  17. Johnny Dubya Inactive
    Johnny Dubya

    Robert McReynolds: “Why is it so imperative that universities be seen as havens of rape by the Left?”

    I’m not so sure they even believe their own hype. Why would they send their daughters to institutions where supposedly they risk a one in five chance of being raped?

    • #17
  18. Autistic License Thatcher
    Autistic License

    If it’s a rape, what’s the justification for turning him loose? If it’s not, why slander him?

    Like poor Ms. Bowne, every new crime is an excuse for a politico to do what they’d like, rather than what they were elected to do.

    • #18
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